Brief Book Review: SPQR
Ancient Roman historians were experts at turning historical chaos into a tidy narrative
Ancient Egypt. Pyramids, mummies and cobras in caskets.
Ancient Greece. Gods, philosophers and the Olympic Games.
Ancient Rome. Gladiator fights…?
I dove into SPQR intrigued by how little I understood Ancient Rome, and eager to solidify an empire whose impact can still be observed today. Mary Beard succeeds in telling a compelling story of politics, power and assassination that acknowledges the prejudices that come with words carried through time. While it’s sometimes difficult keeping track of which emperor did what where, SPQR helps visualise what a walk through Rome might have looked like 2000 years ago.
What struck me most was, outside the infant mortality, vast inequality and systematic slavery, many concerns of the everyday Roman mirror those we consider unique to our time: immigration, terror attacks (pirates), graffiti, paperwork, alcoholism. We enjoy marvelling at the strange customs of Egyptian Pharaohs, but when we hear about Roman Senators debating legislation like its Prime Minister’s Questions, maybe it strikes too close to home? This is no better illustrated than by a husband and wife spat that ensued over a dinner party leaving one declaring,
‘I feel like a stranger in my own house!’
and the other gesturing to the dinner guests,
‘There, you see what I have to put up with every day!’